Festival of light

Strong outdoor lighting is more in demand in the region now than ever before.


Lighting is a crucial part of any commercial outdoor design and particularly so in a region like the Middle East, where the pleasant climate allows for a large part of the evening to be spent out of doors. Yet until recently, it was often under utilised as a resource in the region.

"In the last 20 years we've seen a quantum leap in the application of outdoor lighting," Andre Tammes, managing director of lighting consultancy Lighting Design Partnership, says. "Historically, outdoor lighting used to be about replacing daylight for security purposes, whereas now it is more about a celebration of light. Old-fashioned flood lighting is now pretty much gone, and we now focus more on what we call ‘embedded light' in the skin of the building."

By this, he means the use of internal lighting to affect external areas, as in the luminescent impact of the Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai, or the green glow of the National Theatre in London.

Demand for outdoor lighting has increased significantly as developers become more aware of the commercial impact strong lighting can have. Beyond the functional necessity of lighting, designers are increasingly exploring the positive psychological impact that planned lighting can produce in people. "Now it is not just about providing the correct light levels, it's about providing ambiance," says Ziad Milli, lighting designer at landscape firm Cracknell. Research shows that well-planned lighting enhances people's sense of well-being encouraging them to spend longer in a given space and thus driving sales in the related business environment. "Lighting plays a very important role in driving commerce and business. A ‘well-lit' area will attract and retain a larger footfall," notes Tammes.

Getting it right

Choosing the right lighting and integrating it at an early stage into the planning process is essential, according to experts. "One of the biggest problems with outdoor lighting is ‘glare'," says Tammes. "Light is a great trespasser, and one badly placed light can ruin the overall affect. Lighting master-planning is therefore critical."

Another challenge for lighting designers working on larger scale projects in the region is sustaining variety. Lighting Design Partnership, for example, is designing the external lighting for the new City of Arabia in Dubai. The project requires a coherent overall lighting identity, but also a significant amount of variety throughout the project to add character and avoid monotony.


Lighting types

Metal Halide (MH)

Good colour rendition and high energy efficiency means MH lighting is popular for commercial outdoor lighting. Requires a ballast.

High-Pressure Sodium (HPS)

Energy efficient lighting that is widely available and has reasonable colour rendition (although poorer than MH). Often used for street lighting.

Low-Pressure Sodium (LPS)

Used to be popular choice for street lighting but is now being phased out in favour of HPS. Highly energy efficient but creates an unpleasant orange effect.

LED Lamps

Energy efficient and highly flexible. Will last longer than other outdoor lighting sources and can be used to generate dramatic effects.

Sulphur lamps

Experimental lighting system with a great deal of potential for energy efficiency when creating white light. Mimics sunlight better than any other light source.

LED there be light

High intensity discharge (HID) lighting such as low-pressure sodium (LPS)and high-pressure sodium (HPS) lighting are typically used for street lighting, while metal halide (MH) is generally used for atmospheric outdoor lighting, but it is another form of lighting that is currently having a big impact on outdoor design - light emitting diodes (LEDs).

LEDs are popular because of their superior colour rendition. They can be computer programmed to change colour and generate specific effects, enabling more dramatic lighting to be created and transforming an outdoor space into an illuminated work of art. This is an important consideration for a region where being bigger and better - or in lighting terms, more striking and effective - than the rest is often a key client requirement.

Designers can use a single-colour LED or a combination of three coloured LEDs - red, green and blue (RGB). "Due to the flexibility they offer and the fact that the light can be set to any desired colour, LED technology offers lighting solutions which are simply not possible with any other existing technologies," says Vikash Banwarie, projects marketing and sales manager of Philips Middle East and Africa. He cites the creation of effects such as saturated colour, grazing effects to enhance texture, sharp light/shadow lines and the prevention of light pollution on windows as examples of how LEDs can be used.

Whilst demand for dynamic lighting continues, however, recent trends suggest that there is now a move towards softer forms of lighting. "Recent specifications show there is a move away from the ‘Festival Lighting' type schemes and the rapid colour changing wash or column scenarios born out of the Burj Al Arab Style light shows. The tendency is for more mood effects such as enclosed edge lighting and corner feature enhancements creating halo and backlight effects," says Paul Davies, director of lighting supplier LitePros.

Energy efficiency

LEDs are also popular from an energy efficiency point of view, a key consideration for lighting specialists. While the legislation on energy consumption that is affecting the lighting industry in Europe and the US has not yet been adopted in the GCC, it seems likely that it will be very shortly. Coupled with the new legislation enforcing green building construction in Dubai, which becomes law in January, energy efficiency considerations are only likely to grow.

"With the forthcoming Carbon Footprint requirements dictated by international corporates for world compliance, especially in the hospitality sectors, architectural lighting will become reflector fluorescent and LED based," Davies predicts.


LEDs - the pros and cons


• Up to 100,000 hours of use

• Double lumens per watt of GLS domestic bulb

• Difficult to damage

• Able to focus light better

• Produces 16 million colours

• Small, good for design purposes


• Initially expensive

• Affected by heat and moisture

• No stable white light

Part of a larger city beautification programme, Dubai Creek was lit by Philips at the request of Dubai Municipality and the Historic Buildings Section. LEDs were used to light a number of creekside facades.

LEDs are reasonably energy efficient at 60-70 lumens/watt, comparable with lower wattage MH and HPS lamps. LPS lighting remains the most energy efficient form of illumination on the mass market at over 100 lumens/watt, but because of the unpleasant orange cast and very poor colour rendition, LPS is used sparingly, where energy consumption and costs are a major concern and where colour discrimination is either not needed or is supplied by other lighting.

LED efficiency is also improving with some solutions being developed that can achieve outputs of 150 lumens/watt. Energy-saving applications of LEDs include the Bosphorus Bridge linking Asia and Europe, which, according to the supplier of the lighting Philips, consumes 50% less energy than was previously required.

Cost considerations

Energy efficient lighting is also more cost effective - reducing costs by more than 70% in lamp life and by more than 90% in heat dissipation, according to Davies. But the real saving with LEDs at present is in the overall operational cost. LEDs have a lifetime of 100,000 hours (approximately 20 years of nightly use) - this is roughly four times longer than a long-lasting HID lamp. LEDs can be significantly more expensive to install than HID lamps, but are generally seen as being more cost efficient over the longer term.

"LEDs are still ‘ten years young' and so relatively new technology. However we expect to see growth in the overall percentage of our business that is involved with LEDs and it is possible that architectural lighting budgets will increase in line with the additional set-up costs," says Mohan Chandra, marketing manager for Osram, who estimates that around 10% of Osram's business in the region is in LEDs.

One area that is still being explored, however, is how suitable LEDs are for use in the Middle East. Although lighting firms say they are witnessing an increase in demand for LEDs, some experts still express concern on their compatibility with heat. Certain manufacturers do not recommend LED components to be operated at ambient temperatures higher than 50°C. "Heat management is of the utmost importance with LEDs - otherwise they will fail quickly and the benefits of their long lifetime will be missed out on. We only recommend installing LEDs where heat dissipation can be guaranteed," cautions Raman Krishnan, regional director of Lighting Design Alliance.

Future trends

Whilst MH, HPS and LPS lights still account for the majority of outdoor lighting at present, and LEDs are the big trend at the moment, there are other new developments starting to appear on the horizon.

Sulphur plasma lamps, which were originally developed in the early 1990s, are now being re-evaluated by firms such as LG Electronics and 3M. Plasma lamps show promise in terms of the quality of white light they provide and in terms of their increased energy efficiency. Lighting consultancy Webb Australia used plasma lamps for its ANZAC Parade project in Canberra, Australia.

Plasma lamps, together with LED lighting, may eventually replace MH and HPS lighting, Tammes predicts. "This is a very new technology but within 20 years we should start to see it being more widely used," he opines.

With new product innovation on the horizon, together with a growing awareness of the importance of outdoor lighting, the future certainly looks bright for the region's lighting specialists.

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